Michal J.’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sometimes a Classic has a bar that is set too high, and living up to expectations can be hard even for a film such as Chinatown. I always go into into every single movie optimistic and wanting the movie to be as good as possible; after all, what's the point of watching movies and hoping they don't live to expectations? That said, considering this film's legacy and my rating given to it, it's still a film that under-performed to my expectations that, to be fair, perhaps were a bit too high.
Chinatown itself is a film that stars Jack Nicholson as private investigator Jakee Gittes that is hired by a client to investigate her husband's private life in suspicion of him having an affair, in the process being sucked into a troubling mystery that pushes him to the limit.
I will begin with the obvious, the one thing that is certain, and that is the undoubted mastery that is Jack Nicholson's performance. With each and every movie that I watch with him, I like Nicholson more and more as a contagiously charismatic and talented actor. Here, the film places most of the pressure on Nicholson's shoulders due the camera's omnipresent following of him, and he never disappoints, delivering a grounded, authentic, and compelling performance that does wonders for this films quality, longevity, and enjoyment. The supporting cast also does admirable work, and Faye Dunaway does a wonderful job as the star supporting actress.
Moving on, I also have to admit that this film definitely has it's own charm and charisma, and benefits greatly from an interesting score and a tasteful, captivating cinematography. I enjoyed the scene pieces, the colours, the locations, and general pleasant quality of each and every scene. I think some of the editing was a bit too jarring and abrupt, but of course this is minimal and at the end of the day, Chinatown is an effortlessly nice and easy film to watch thanks to a beautiful work of cinematography that brings out the charm of the era and the beauty of the people that populate it.
However, the deal breaker for me, is that Chinatown seemed to fail to truly impress me; this is a film that I've seen praised for its screenplay and writing, when that's the main fault I have felt the movie had throughout it's entire run-time. The plot is driven almost exclusively through verbal exposition, key plot points and points of intrigue are fed to us directly by NIcholson's character, many events of the film (I found) are predictable, and, worst of all, the film felt strangely and oddly dramatically distant; there wasn't really a single scene that really rocked my world. For a "Noir" and a film that centred around working around a mystery, our omnipresent protagonist kind of just walks through the mystery with little playfulness left over for the viewer, throwing around, again, verbal exposition and seemingly solving the case with little context for us to pick-up on how he comes to these conclusions.
I do however wish to say that I have no bone to pick with this film, and I do not want to leave the wrong impression; this is still an impressive piece of film, albeit underwhelming for what I think I was expecting considering it's massive reputation. Jack Nicholson still gives an intensely impressive performance in a visually and audibly beautiful movie, but I just think this is a style of pacing, writing, and mystery that simply wasn't of the sort that would impress me as much as I think it should have. I did my best to become invested, but I think the film just lacked any emotional attachment to it's supporting and minor characters to truly make me care in the grand mystery at hand. Most of the mystery is procedurally, verbally solved by the protagonist with little challenge, surprise, or context for the viewer, and there just isn't really any "true" shock or twist in the film that I couldn't predict, and the one climactic shock (anyone who's seen the film will know what scene I'm hinting at) of the most value wasn't enough for me.
Overall, perhaps a movie to be put near the top of a list of re-watches. I know that there are movies out there that are likely better on a second viewing, and it's perfectly acceptable that this is might be one of those films. Maybe the plot will appear more organic and interesting on such a more attentive viewing, who knows. That said, right now as it is, Chinatown is a classic that I think I understand the reputation for, but I just don't think lived up to the hype and leaves a bit to be desired and admired rather than loved.
I have to say, however, the poster for the film, my god. One of the best, I wish this is the style that'd be used for most films today.